About Val’s Garden

This garden began in 1984 as a blank canvas and my dream was to create an English style garden.The two majestic spruce trees at the west end of the sunken rose garden, the spruce hedge, the lilacs, and the five tall spruce behind the fire pit are original to the garden. All the other trees and plantings began in 1984 with the clearing of scrub bush, various automobiles and other such debris left over from years of active farm life. The little stone house, built in 1907, was gutted and brought into modern times. A garden room was added some years later.

There is no water source on this 12 acre property and for more that 20 years I gardened without a watering supply. Now water is pumped from a little lake through many metres of hose to a sprinkler, which I move around as needed. The lake was dug in 2010 by a big machine and fills each spring with melted snow. 

With nearly 12 acres there was enough space to encompass many gardens within the whole. This suited my ambitious vision.

I like to view the garden in two ways. One way is to see it as a whole and complete landscape aware of the bones, the design – the way one garden area leads to another, the shapes of the hedges, the trees, the variation in heights and shapes and to some extent the plantings.

Another way I like to see the garden is closer up with a focus on groupings or even individual plants. It is exciting to discover the flame coloured cone flower next to the painted wooden obelisk, the orange lilies against the crimson Adelaide Hoodless rose, the sliver leafed artemisia mingled with the tall stems of the fuchsia rose campion, Morden Centennial roses inter planted with purple ornamental allium and so on. Some of these combinations are even deliberate! Some are serendipitous. Many plants have a mind of their own!

It was a lucky accident that this piece of land was surrounded on three sides by a ‘ravine’ (well, a dip in the landscape really) and crop fields, woods and pasture land. To take advantage of this potential for vistas, I unsentimentally removed quite a lot of poplars. This opened up a sweeping view down the slope across the little lake and up the other side to the farm land beyond. How the eye does like to roam and then rest in the distance.

This garden has been featured in Gardening Life (cover story), Gardens West, twice in the Manitoba Gardener and graced the cover of the 2014 Prairie Garden Annual, (75th edition).

Perennial Border

The first garden area that is visible is the perennial border. It meanders along in front of a cotoneaster hedge for about 300 yards. The planting is loose and informal like a traditional cottage garden with self seeding plants allowed to pop up at random. Interest is added with the placement of three obelisks.


At the end of the perennial border, through a clematis-covered arch is the back 40, an open space of grass which is home to a large labyrinth. The ancient Cretan path takes you to the centre of the labyrinth where a reproduction staddle stone sits.

Rose Garden

The sunken rose garden began life as the old farm garden. The earth that was removed to make the two levels was dumped in front of the house and became the south lawn. The roses are nearly all hardy (to zone 3) shrub and explorer type etc. In 2016, 34 vastly overgrown, impossible-to-trim, light-blocking, spruce trees were dramatically felled. I do not miss the trees and neither do the roses!

Dogwood Border

I replaced the aforementioned spruce trees with a hedge of Red Osier dogwood – a border inspired by a show garden at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show and the loggia garden at Broadheath House in Wales. Mounds and spikes make a happy combination for a slightly formal look. Globe cedar, globe honeysuckle, rounded ‘Purrsian Blue’ nepeta, and sprawling Bloody Cranesbill are enlivened by spires of penstemon (Huskers Red), iris (Harvest Gold), yarrow (Cloth of Gold) and punctuated by mauve opium poppies and purple allium giganteum. For a bit of height there are, at intervals, three trees – two plums and an apple.

Goldfish Pond

There is a delightful small round pond at the east end of the former wild flower garden. The fountain, is an enchanting bubbly thing and the flower bed around the pond once again relies on mounds and spikes for design – this time with a fullsome planting of pointy iris, big leafed bergenia, spiky daylilies, and rounded ladies mantle.

White Garden

Connected to the pond are two new gardens which have replaced the previous wildflower garden. One is the white garden inspired by Vita Sackville West’s white garden at Sissinghurst Castle. This has been planted, as you might expect, with a variety of shades of white flowers, silver or burgundy leaves and with some height provided by tree form snowball viburnum.

Piet Oudolf Garden

Separated from the white garden by a wood chip path is another new garden. This one is inspired by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. His modern take on prairie perennials planted in drifts is part of a new design movement incorporating native and hardy plants with wild grasses to create a tapestry of colour with long seasonal interest even into winter where grasses and seed heads stand above the snow.

Japanese Garden

Gardens in Asia are richly symbolic and evocative. My so-called Japanese Garden is an attempt to simplify and calm down the exuberance of all the other planted areas. A Buddha statue sits on top of a hillock and a dry river bed represents the way water finds its path down a slope and around a mountain.

Circle Garden

The circle garden of roses offers heavily scented and multi-petalled roses developed by David Austin. In this harsh climate they are bit of a surprise. Hardy to zone five, they need winter protection and patience in the spring to wait until hard frosts have vanished before uncovering them to see (in about 80%) small white leaf buds.

Potager Garden

Along another grass walkway is the potager. It’s a bit massive and misleading because I’m not a great vegetable producer. But I do love the look of the garden’s formal division into rectangular plots, each one encompassed by a spruce wood frame to give it a raised look, then anchored by a good sized globe cedar. There are 16 of these beds. In the centre of them all looms a contemporary obelisk which, in a good year, displays an energetic scarlet runner bean.

Mediterranean (Hot) Garden

Further down the grass path (adjacent to the potager) is an unusual circle of a garden. I call it the Mediterranean garden or hot garden. The arc of an arbour supports grape vines, while a lilac hedge offers enclosure. On the inside of this circle is a mass of brightly coloured annuals as well as masses of mullein spires. Quite exotic looking.

Herb Garden

At the end of this grass walkway is the herb garden. It’s amazing how many herbs survive our winters. Some of the English lavender is seven years old. A decorative sundial in the middle and reclaimed brick paths separate herb areas including a patchwork of various thymes.

Peony Garden

If you backtrack a little and look west of the sunken rose garden, there are about sixty peonies here interplanted with day lilies. A path (completely walkable) of lemon scented thyme divides the garden in to sections.

Grand Allée

Off in the distance, through a gap in the tall lilac hedge is a spectacular scene. The allée stretches for about 200 yards to the unusual punctuation mark of an armillary sphere. A path through the woods continues on. Either side of the allée (perfectly mirrored) are 26 mancana Ash trees, interplanted with white peonies, white hydrangeas, blue nepeta, ladies mantle, yellow marguerite daisies, and yellow lemon fluffies. The palette of the planting is simplified for maximum impact.

Rock Garden

At the east end of the sunken rose garden is my attempt at a rockery. With almost no soil, a goodly variety of hardy, tenacious smaller plants manage to thrive.

Shade Garden

The shade garden on the north side of the house has been revamped to showcase a collection of martagon lilies, hydrangeas, primulas and columbines. Oh yes, and the occasional hosta.

View Point

I have carved a very desirable borrowed view into the bush at the bottom of the ravine (just a dip really). From a bench on the south side of the potager, I can admire the field beyond the edge of my property. Quite by chance, a nine foot tree trunk (the top part of the tree having fallen in a storm) appears in the middle, creating a wonderful focal point where the eye can rest before taking in the whole scene.


On three sides of the potager is a kind of orchard with two apricots (hardy I’ve been told) and eight apple trees. The four apples running alongside the grass path are espaliered. Espalier supports made of metal drill stem are topped with perfect, hand made, pottery finials.

Dolly and Princess, the Garden Guardians

Finally, say ‘hello’ to Dolly and Princess, both Maremma/Great Pyrenees cross. They are the garden guardians (or guardian in training, in Princess’s case).

Coming Soon – 2022

  • Woodland Garden and Stumpery with tree ferns, daffodils, hellebores, and shade loving plants at the edge of the woods.
  • Greenhouse in which to begin all manner of exotic and unusual plants such as Peacock Lily, Foxtail Lily, 4 O’clocks etc.
  • Cutting Garden with an array of annuals suitable for arrangements such as gladiola, sweet peas, and zinnias.

Spend Time in the Garden!

Val’s garden will be open for viewing this summer every second Wednesday from 1pm to 4pm beginning on June 22nd.
A $2 donation is suggested. Proceeds to go to support the Birtle Centre for the Arts.